This was the question that was asked of me at my first internship about a year ago. Feeling a little put on the spot, I gave the horribly cringe-worthy response that, given my lack of experience, it seemed like it would be “easier” to work on children’s books in an editorial capacity than it would to work on adults’ books. The truth is I wasn’t entirely sure which direction I wanted to take at that point and I had only just re-entered the world of children’s fiction after a decade’s hiatus (give or take), so I wasn’t really qualified to comment on their relative “easiness”. Now, a year on, having read a few more children’s books and coming to the end of my internship at Hot Key, I feel like the time is ripe to re-examine my feelings about children’s fiction and reasons for wanting to pursue a career in children’s publishing via the almighty forum for online discussion that is… the blog.
Perhaps the most significant thing I’ve discovered is how innovative children’s books often are. To illustrate by example, of the books I have read recently, one featured a teenage girl with a blood condition with potentially global ramifications (The Truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne), another posed the argument “What if God was a horny teenage boy?” (There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff), and, finally, the most recent involved a young boy’s ability to shrink planets that throws the entire solar system into turmoil (an upcoming Hot Key title, the “50% fun” SHRUNK! by F.R. Hitchcock).
I believe this innovation is due to the fact that children’s books are less tethered to the need for realism, given that children are simply not the harsh critics adults are (this isn’t to suggest that realism is completely disregarded; I strongly believe that a story will only be engaging if the protagonist has a kernel of truth in their makeup, is relatable in some way) and so there is the opportunity for wildly imaginative stories. In this sense, if pure escapism is what you’re after, I feel that children’s books are hard to beat!
Another thing I’ve discovered is that there is an appealing levity or sense of fun underlying children’s fiction which keeps those pages turning. Adult fiction, on the other hand, with its meditations on mortality, explorations of the darker side of human nature and literary pretensions, has the potential to become tiresome. That isn’t to say that serious subjects aren’t grappled with in children’s books (they often deal with divorce, emotionally detached parents and, towards the young adults’ end of the spectrum, sex and death), but they never bog the story down.
One final thing I’ve discovered is that a good children’s book never preaches values to its audience. To the contrary, children’s books often celebrate the fact that children will be mischievous; it is simply part of the joy of being young (See the Penny Dreadful series by Joanna Nadin, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townshend, Spud by John van de Ruit).
In this way children’s books leave the task of instilling values in children to the realms of parenting and school education and instead focus on telling a gripping story.
Since I began doing internships at children’s publishers I’ve encountered quite a few adults who read children’s fiction not only frequently but exclusively, and, for the reasons I’ve set out above, it’s very easy to see the appeal. Perhaps the phrase “children’s fiction” is too restrictive a tag (suggestions anyone?).
So as my internship at Hot Key draws to a close, I now return to the original question. Why do I want to work in children’s publishing? Well, it’s the opportunity to read a wide range of imaginative submissions from authors. It’s the fact that it gives you a front-row seat in terms of all the exciting new releases in the world of children’s publishing. It’s the wonderfully varied tasks that are performed from day to day (during my stint at Hot Key I spent a good couple of hours gluing miniature covers onto miniature books, which, for the record, was quite therapeutic, really).
It’s the fact that there’s an infinite supply of chocolate by the kitchen sink. And, finally, it’s the prospect of working alongside people whose passion for their jobs, in my experience, is unmatched.
Now it’s your turn, Hot Key blog visitors – tell me, what do you love about children’s books?